Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers delivered a loose, rollicking set at Broomfield, Colorado’s 1stBank Center last night to finish out the opening two-night stand of their 2012 tour, which continues for another 25 dates in North America and Europe through June 30th.
The relatively intimate venue northwest of Denver, which can hold up to 6,500 but felt more like a cozy auditorium, hosted the official kickoff concert the previous night – although Petty trimmed the set list on this show by four songs while still presenting a fan’s dream list of hits and the occasional cover and deep cut.
Petty and his longtime band took the stage at 9 p.m. and wordlessly launched into "Listen to Her Heart" from 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It! The agreeable jangle was only a hint of the volume to come as Petty grinned mischievously at lead guitarist Mike Campbell, Petty’s black, button-up bell bottoms swaying as he pitched his body over his guitar. He hit a sour note on the opening strum of "You Wreck Me," which he jokingly attributed to a broken string. After a quick instrument swap the momentum was back, with Petty cueing drummer Steve Ferrone for fills as David Letterman would Paul Shaffer’s rim shots.
"We’re going to have an even greater time tonight," Petty promised before "Won’t Back Down." His familiar guitar dynamics – palm-muted verses, open-chord choruses – felt particularly laid-back as Campbell’s wailing slide leads cut through the pot fog hanging over the sold-out venue. Petty ditched his black overcoat for the Damn the Torpedoes cut "Here Comes My Girl" as the verses rode a wave of Benmont Tench’s insistent organ and piano notes. Dedicated to "all those Wilbury guys, wherever they are traveling tonight," his band’s version of the Traveling Wilburys’ "Handle With Care" found multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston taking over Roy Orbison’s bridge vocals while Petty handled the rest.
Given the previous nod to Petty’s folk-rock supergroup, it was no surprise he followed with a song dedicated to the Band drummer Levon Helm, who died earlier in the day after a long battle with cancer. He was "one of the greatest human beings that ever was," Petty said before playing "The Best of Everything," a song from 1985’s Southern Accents. Petty then dug into 1981’s Hard Promises for "Something Big," a song "I always liked and never got to play very much." It was soon clear why he likes it: his simple but effective blues lead gave the mid-tempo stomper a barrelhouse charm.
After sneaking a quick smoke near the drum riser and offering one of his personal favorites, "Have Love Will Travel," from 2002’s The Last DJ, Petty lovingly introduced the Heartbreakers and led them back into a sing-along-friendly "Free Fallin,’" which briefly found him zooming around the stage like an airplane, arms outstretched. "I’m havin’ fun. I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere," he admitted before jamming on J.J. Cale’s propulsive "Travelin’ Light," a song also favored by Widespread Panic and rendered with suitable length and fluidity.
We could have expected more acoustic songs if Petty’s beloved guitars hadn’t been so quickly lost and found from last week’s rehearsal space theft, but "Learning to Fly" and "Yer So Bad" were just the right amount. Campbell finally broke out his Les Paul and channeled Jimmy Page for the eardrum-shattering, Zeppelinesque "I Should Have Known It," from 2010’s back-to-basics Mojo. During hits like "Runnin’ Down a Dream" and especially "Refugee," the years seemed to melt away as Petty attacked the mike, eyes squeezed shut. "I don’t know when I’ve had such a good time," he said before playing "American Girl," the last of the two-song encore. It was easy to believe it as Petty affected a playful Elvis hip-shake, hands clasped behind his head. He seemed as genuinely humbled by the audience’s raucous applause as they were by his still-potent, effortless cool.
"Listen to Her Heart"
"You Wreck Me"
"I Won’t Back Down"
"Here Comes My Girl"
"Handle With Care"
"The Best of Everything"
"Have Love Will Travel"
"Time to Move On"
"Learning to Fly"
"Yer So Bad"
"I Should Have Known It"
"Runnin’ Down a Dream"
"Mary Jane’s Last Dance"